John Zappe, an award-winning journalist who was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and later helped Knight-Ridder, Belo Interactive and the Los Angeles Newspaper Group develop leading online media sites, died Wednesday, Sept. 28. He was 70 years old.
Zappe was diagnosed in November 2021 with a brain tumor. He underwent chemo and radiation before dying peacefully at a care facility in Southern California. His death was confirmed by his friend and companion, Nancy Placek, who supported and took care of him in his final days.
Zappe worked with the AIM Group for several years beginning in 2004, and “boomeranged” to serve as an AIM Group writer and analyst again beginning in 2021.
He was a graduate of the Syracuse University College of Law with a J.D. He was editor of the university’s newspaper, the Daily Orange, and served as an adjunct instructor in the Newhouse School of Communications. He chose not to become a lawyer and instead went into journalism.
He spent seven years at the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, California, where he served as assignment editor, enterprise editor, investigative and special projects reporter and later city editor, supervising a staff of 12. From there, he joined Knight-Ridder as a manager of new media, leading the team that planned, built and launched the company’s first newspaper website in 1994. Later, at Belo Interactive, he was director of new media, with operational responsibility for a multi-million dollar internet service provider, along with an audiotext and internet content operation. He also led an online advertising sales program.
Zappe served as vice president of new media for almost three years for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, with a staff of 23 and annual revenue of $5.2 million with a 35% margin.
In 2004, he joined the AIM Group, which then published Classified Intelligence Report, focusing on classified advertising online. He wrote about recruitment and local search for the report and also served as a consultant for several AIM Group clients, training teams in online sales and focusing on ad revenue growth.
After the AIM Group, he joined ERE Media, an online business focused on recruiters and recruitment. He edited the Fordyce Letter, “the voice of the professional executive recruiter.” He wrote more than 2,000 articles about recruitment for ERE and its sister sites, before rejoining the AIM Group in early 2021. He also worked as a freelance writer for a number of companies, including a playground equipment provider.
In addition to his work in journalism, Zappe’s passion was training dogs and competing with them in agility trials. He traveled throughout the western U.S. with his dogs, most recently Batman and Zuma, and was part of the dog agility community in southern California.
He lived most recently in Long Beach, California, but was a native of the Bronx, New York. He attended Rhinebeck Junior and Senior High Schools, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.
In addition to Placek, he’s survived by Batman, Zuma and two large communities of friends from the journalism and dog-agility worlds.